Investing in Invention

Unique fund helps Fresno State innovators pursue commercialization

By Eddie Hughes

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As is the case with any great business idea, the idea itself is only the beginning of the hard work to come. But Dr. The “Leo” Nguyen, the mechanical engineering professor who has been using the principle of energy absorption to develop a tremor- suppression device for Parkinson’s patients the past two years, is giving Fresno State faculty, staff and students a how-to lesson on using the unique resources the campus provides.

New California Ventures LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Fresno State Foundation, has provided 22 mini-grants to support business concepts on campus since the entity was established in 2012.

The entity was created to facilitate work that Fresno State’s Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship engages in with start-up companies to provide consulting services and financial assistance to help launch commercialization efforts.

The Foundation has invested about $240,000 so researchers on campus can protect their intellectual property by pursuing patent protection and then monetizing their ideas if they reach that stage of development.

One of those mini-grants provided the seed money Nguyen needed to continue his research and development with patient trial studies for his Tremelo family of devices. Five Microns, a medical-device company, was created to do the work.

“There are a lot of resources on campus for entrepreneurs, whether it’s in engineering, ag or health and human services,” says Debbie Adishian-Astone, Fresno State’s vice president for administration, chief financial officer and executive director for the Fresno State Foundation. “Dr. Nguyen’s story will resonate with the faculty because his story is really a billboard for the campus and showing that we know how to move forward with a concept and hopefully get it to market and turn it into a profitable venture.”

The entity is similar to what is found at Stanford and other major research universities, but Fresno State is the only campus in the California State University system with a for-profit entity focused on helping faculty, staff and students launch their projects into private business ventures.

Once the product or service is commercialized, Fresno State, which co-owns the patent, will receive royalties to help support future scholarly research.

Adishian-Astone says, in addition to supporting research on campus, New California Ventures has the potential to make an economic impact.

“It can be challenging for start-ups to attract the capital to pursue an idea, and this funding helps ease that challenge.”

“When successful, concepts like Dr. Nguyen’s can help contribute to economic development and job creation in our community and beyond.”


— Eddie Hughes is the senior editor for Fresno State Magazine.